April 2018

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Emotional Intelligence

Last night Ann and I went to our friend Nikki's house for a game night with friends from church. I have been so down lately that I have pulled deep into my shell, and I really wasn't in the mood to go. We had agreed to help host, however: we had advertised with friends, I had thought through the organization and Ann had baked cookies and gluten-free brownies, so I felt obligated and went. I didn't complain, but I did drag my feet.

I'm so glad I went: the evening was such a gift, full of laughter and community. We had three tables set up for games: Boggle at one, Qwirkle at another, and Rummikub at the third. In the first round, the Boggle group got bored and changed to a Bible trivia game, which we played when I moved to the table. Bible trivia was a surprising hit among a group of Christians who don't read the Bible in public much. 

We didn't play the game competitively, as it was designed. We took turns with one person reading a question from a stack of cards, and others trying to conjure the answer. Allyson gave a token to anyone who answered correctly or looked like they might answer correctly, or didn't answer correctly but followed an impressive line of thinking, or had a clever or amusing answer. Our friend Aaron wasn't able to come, so we called his partner Steve's phone "Aaron," and Aaron got a token whenever the rest of us didn't know the answer but we suspected that Aaron, who has a divinity degree, would have known.  We laughed a lot.

After two rounds of table games, we all came together around the couch to play "Things," a game that Mary #43 and her partner Hadley had brought. The people who created "Apples to Apples" created this game: one person read out a question about "things", like "What thing should you not lend out?" and then we piled our responses together and took turns guessing who had answered what.

The most common thing you shouldn't loan out was your underwear (I, the pastor Karla, and Karla's daughter Emily all wrote that--probably because Emily is an English Literature major, as was I, and our literary aesthetic has influenced Karla). You also shouldn't loan out your spouse (Ann said that: bless her), your children (though some were offered up), used toilet paper, and a variety of other things.

We did two rounds. In the second round, we noted what you shouldn't do at the beach. When my friend Pea drew three answers together, saying, "You shouldn't streak as a way of flirting with the lifeguard just before you drop the #2 bomb," Pastor Karla laughed so hard that she threw her head on the table with a bang. We all agreed that the best answer was "sweep" and guessed at the people we find most clever. It took awhile, I'm ashamed to say, for someone to guess that the clever respondent was Ann, who is quietly hilarious, so you might not guess. But I should have.

Ann's line became part of Karla's sermon today: sweeping sand at the beach became a metaphor for doing a meaningless activity that keeps a person busy but doesn't contribute to anyone's well-being.

At our game night, we laughed, ate cheddar popcorn and trail mix and Ann's chocolate chip cookies and gluten-free brownies. Some of us had wine and others had fruit drinks. Some of us had a little of everything. We all had fun.  

After spinning with grief for a couple of weeks, I felt so relieved by the laughter and sense of community. 

This morning, most of the same people were at adult education, led by our friends Annie and Mary #43. We did not laugh in this group, however. For a second week, we discussed systemic racism and the prison industrial complex: we felt betrayed by the fact that we have allowed such a thing to happen in our lives without our even noticing. 

This week, after a few technical difficulties (another Mary figured it out: I've got to get her to choose a number), we listened to Michelle Alexander's speech at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. (You can find it on youtube at We wondered at the system's root. We wondered how to extirpate such a complex system. We wondered what we could do.

I was in a small group discussion with my friend Lori, whose advanced Cerebral Palsy does not allow her to use language. She communicates both joy and sadness, however, and she was clearly agitated. I wish I knew how to learn what she was thinking. 

Though the discussion was not at all funny--rage and confusion were the commonly expressed emotions--I felt again the connection of community. It's not exaggerating to say that though I don't think the community was aware of i,t and I certainly wasn't at the discussion's center, the community embraced me as we discussed the topic together. 

I have been wondering in this grieving time how to be gentle with myself, as my professor Bonnie always tells us to be. How do I simultaneously honor both grief and joy?

Ann and I read this Rilke quote tonight, perhaps words that show me the way, or give me courage for the way:

“So you mustn't be frightened... if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety - like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in the palm of its hand and will not let you fall.”

Perhaps the ability to hold together such opposites requires an emotional intelligence that is new to me. Perhaps I am learning. I hope so. I understand that grieving is important, but it really isn’t fun.

I love a few people who are alcoholics who are currently not drinking. I know one of the signs that someone may relapse is self-isolation, and we work together on not isolating.

I need to keep this awareness in front of me: there is a barely discernable difference between taking some time to myself to rest and to heal and isolating, dragging myself further into the darkness.

Golly. Every time I fool myself into thinking that I am on the path to wisdom, I learn how much I still have to learn.

Perhaps you and I are learning together. Or perhaps you find my journey mysterious. Or perhaps you are a jedi knight watching this padawan muddle through.

Whatever your perspective, I want to try to tell you how much your place in this blog community means to me, how important it is to have company in this journey, but—for once—I do not have the words.

I do have the heart. So please hear my heart when I say thank you.

Thank you. 


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